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Precision Long Range 1 with Match Grade Precision

Chris Upchurch

I recently had the chance to take the Precision Long Range 1 course from Match Grade Precision, taught by Matt Howard and Chris Long.

Gear

My impetus for taking this class was to test out a new optic on my .223 DMR. When I talked to the folks at Match Grade Precision before I registered they thought that a .223 would be a bit light for this class. I mentioned I also had a .300 Win Mag. Since I wanted to exercise the .223, they suggested using the .223 for the closer range stuff and the Win Mag for the longer range shooting on the second day.

The .223 AR that I brought is a JP Rifles 16” upper on a lower that I put together myself a couple of years ago. The new optic that I want to try out is a US Optics B-10 1.8-10x. Of course, I’m running my usual AAC Mini4 suppressor. I ran this gun with a different optic (a Leupold Mark 6 1-6x) in Eric Pfleger’s Longrifle class a few years ago.

The other change I’ve made since then is to switch from factory ammo to handloads. I’m still using the 77gr Sierra Match King bullet that I was running in the Fiocchi factory loads, but my handloads are a bit hotter (and perhaps more accurate).

The .300 Win Mag is a Savage 111. It’s more of a hunting rifle, but I took it out to 900 yards in the Longrifle class. It’s topped by a Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10x scope. I’m running handloaded Berger 230gr Hybrid Tactical OTM bullets.

There was one other student with a .223 AR, but that was the only other semi-auto. The rest of the class was running bolt guns, mostly in .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor, though there was also one .243 and one 6.5x47mm Lapua. Four of the bolt guns were Ruger Precision Rifles, which all of the students shooting them seemed to like pretty well. I had a chance to put a couple of rounds through one of them. It seemed quite nice.

I brought my Leupold Mark 4 spotting scope, which has a Horus mil-grid reticle in it. I’m running an Atlas bipod on the .223 and a Versapod on the Win Mag.

Friday

I headed out from Wichita around 4pm. After a stop in Salina for dinner and to stock up on some snacks I drove on to Spearpoint Ranch.

Several other students from the class were at the bunkhouse when I arrived. We sat around chatting for a bit, then joined the owner at a bonfire out back. Eventually racked out in the on-site accommodations.

Saturday

I rolled out of bed about 6am. The hot water was out, which made my morning shower kind of interesting.

 Sunrise from the Spearpoint Ranch bunkhouse.

Sunrise from the Spearpoint Ranch bunkhouse.

Matt Howard, the instructor, came by around 8am. He handed out waivers for us to sign as well as data books. Once the paperwork was taken care of we headed up to the range.

At the range Matt went through the medical and safety briefs and went over the outline of the class. After all the students introduced themselves, Matt talked about his background as a US Army sniper and competitive shooter. Chris Long (the other instructor) has lots of competition experience as well. We were also joined by Erica Brooks, who does marketing for Match Grade Precision.

Matt went through the data book that he had handed out earlier, talking about how to use each page, with particular attention to the zeroing, target, and round count log pages. He emphasized that he wanted us to use these throughout the class to log our shots. Not only is the data you gather in a logbook useful in and of itself, it can be helpful to take a break and settle yourself down between shots.

Chris brought out his Kestrel, and he and Matt talked a bit about the importance of atmospheric data (temperature, humidity, pressure, and density altitude). This was the Kestrel model with the built-in Applied Ballistics app, so they segued into talking a bit about using a ballistics app (Chris uses the AB Kestrel, Matt prefers Strelock Pro on a smartphone).

They talked through the fundamentals, starting with your shooting position and cheekweld. After coving natural point of aim, they worked their way up from there to breathing and trigger press. They also covered shooter- spotter communications and working as an effective team.

We started out our shooting by zeroing on paper at 100 yards. Our targets were 3/4 inch square pasters, but these were insufficiently precise for what we would be doing. Instead, Matt asked us to aim precisely for the corner of one of these squares. With the subtensions on my optic, I found this a little difficult, since the reticle covers enough of the paster that it’s hard to tell when I’m holding precisely on the corner (the crosshairs on my scope are 0.1 mil wide, so about half the width of the square). I did as well as I could. My rifle was pretty well zeroed to start with, so I just ended up making a slight tweak to elevation.

The range had a pretty interesting setup, with two large flatscreen TVs hanging from the roof over the firing line. Matt hooked these up to GoPros mounted to a pair of spotting scopes, allowing us to spot using the big TV screens rather than using spotting scopes. Unfortunately, the holes from the .223 I was shooting was just a bit too small to show up reliably on the TV screen. We ended up using my Leupold spotting scope instead.

tvspotter.jpeg

We moved on to the steel targets, starting at 300 yards. The range was set up with pairs of steel targets at every hundred yard mark from 300 to 1200. We had five teams of two students each (one shooting, one spotting) so with only two targets at each range, we weren’t all able to shoot the same distances at the same time. Most of the time we were able to keep out of each other’s way, as some teams moved out to longer distances faster than others. Out to 500, the steel targets were 10” square plates. Beyond 600 they switched over to 18” targets.

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We shot at each distance, starting with data from our ballistics programs and refining it based on real-world results. The winds were a bit tricky, varying in strength. If it were completely flat, it probably would have been a no-value wind (coming straight at us), but the rolling hills meant that the wind was doing different things at different distances. It could be blowing to the right at 300, straight in at 400, and to the left at 500. You just had to average it out or, more likely, take a shoot and see where it landed, then adjust from there.

Match Grade Precision provided a nice lunch on Saturday. It was very tasty, with pulled pork sandwiches, pasta salad, chips, and some great brownies.

As we moved out to future and further targets, I did pretty well. I didn’t have too much trouble getting hits out to the 800-yard mark. The B-10 scope dialed well and produced consistent results. At the farther distances, we had some issues spotting where my rifle was hitting. Those dinky little .223 bullets don’t always give real distinct impacts.

Once we got to the 900-yard mark things got a lot more difficult. At this distance, my bullets are starting to go subsonic. When that happens, the bullet can start wobbling and no longer flies straight. I was able to get some hits, but not consistently. In these conditions, at least, 800 yards seems to be about the effective range of this rifle.

One of the students shooting .308 with 168-grain ammo had similar trouble at 1000 yards. Everything worked well out to 900, but at 1000 the round started going subsonic, and everything went to hell. This gave me flashbacks to my first experience shooting a .308 at 1000 back in the Guerrilla Sniper class I took from Scott Vandiver in 2012, where I spent a couple boxes of ammo for four hits.

Having run out of range on the .223, I brought out the .300 Win Mag. I figured jumping straight to 900 yards would be a recipe for trouble, so I started back at 300 again. Getting hits with the Win Mag was even more straightforward than the .223, probably because even though the wind had gotten stronger the big 230 grain rounds I was shooting handled the wind so well. They’re also much easier to spot. Indeed, my shooting partner remarked on how much movement my bullets imparted to the steel plates at closer ranges.

I never got to see any of that movement, because this rifle is pretty much impossible to self-spot with. This is a fairly light bolt gun with a pencil profile barrel. It doesn’t weigh that much (something I was grateful for when I was carrying it for miles in Montana last year). However, the light weight and stout recoil from the big magnum cartridge knocks the gun completely off target when it goes off. I have to rely on my spotter to call shots and completely rebuild my position after each shot.

With the Win Mag, I was able to march out from one distance to the next in fairly short order. At each distance, the elevation adjustments from AB Mobile app were right on, and the big round bucked the wind so well that I either got first round hits or was on target with just a few shots. It’s amazing the difference a bigger, higher BC bullet can make, even if you do pay for it in recoil. I ended up getting out to 1000 yards with the Win Mag before we wrapped up for the day.

One thing I had to be careful about with the Win Mag was remaining aware of how many revolutions I had put on the elevation turret of the Leupold Mark 4. A complete turn of the turret is 5 mils. I was dialing over twice that at 1000 yards. Unlike my US Optics, this scope does not have a zero stop, so if you lose your place, there’s no simple way to keep track of how many revolutions you've rotated the turret from zero.

We packed up and headed back to the bunkhouse where Matt gave a lesson on his preferred method for cleaning your rifle. My barrel didn’t really need it (I’d punched the bore before coming to this class), but he wanted everyone to clean to demonstrate the change you can get in a cold bore shot with an unfouled barrel at the start of class tomorrow.

After cleaning our rifles (first the horse, then the saddle, last the man, as the cavalry used to say) a couple of us headed out to a local Pizza Hut for dinner. The food was exactly what you’d expect from Pizza Hut, but the company was good.

Back at the bunkhouse, the movie Shooter was on TV, which seemed appropriate. The hot water was back up and running, so I took advantage of a nice hot shower. Most folks turned in pretty early. Lying completely still and pressing gently with your finger can be surprisingly fatiguing when you’re trying to concentrate very hard on it.

Sunday

We mustered out at the range at 8am for our cold bore/clean bore shots. Most shooters found theirs was slightly high, which is what you would expect (a clean bore has less drag on the bullet). Mine was high and about 0.6 mils left. I was a bit surprised, but even more surprised when I dialed in a 0.6 mil correction and the point of impact didn’t move. When I was shooting at 900 the previous day, the windage knob had felt a little odd, but I dismissed it as the way the knob was rubbing on the brass catcher I was using. Clearly, it was slipping. I tightened down the screws on the knob (which were indeed a bit loose) and got it back on target.

After everyone did their cold bore shots, Matt talked about the end of class qualification. The qual was pretty simple, three shots on steel at 400, 500, 600, 700, and 800. Any time during the day we could call Chris over and shoot our three shots at one of these ranges, so you could get all dialed in, then make your three shots and he would record how many of them hit. All the qual really meant was whether you’d get a gold sticker or a silver sticker on your course certificate, but a desire to do well did provide a bit of pressure.

After explaining the qual, we were free to shoot steel, either to get dialed in for the qual or to collect more ballistic data (or both). In the beginning, there was some light fog that limited our ability to spot targets to about 700 yards, but that burned off as the day went on.

The wind also got stronger as the day went on and while it was more consistent in direction than yesterday, it varied a lot in strength. You could go from needing a full mil of wind hold to hardly any as the wind changed. When spotting, I sometimes found it necessary to back off on the magnification on my spotting scope to get a better view of the wind flags at intermediate distances.

My shooting partner and I got started with the qual by warming up at 300 yards. I could have probably thwarted the wind a bit better by using the .300 Win Mag, but I was in the class to exercise the .223, and it’s optic, so I stuck with that even though it would be a bit more challenging.

We shot each distance to verify elevation and try to get a sense of the wind, then called Chris over to shoot for score. Of course, by that time the wind might have changed so you couldn’t just dial the same wind hold you just used. In the end, I went three for three at 400 and 500. As the wind picked up, I dropped one shot each at 600, 700, and 800. Still, that was good enough for a gold star on my certificate.

Several times during the second day, Matt and Chris encouraged folks to try to spot their own shots through the optic and making adjustments off of that, rather than relying entirely on their spotter.

After finishing with the qual, I wasn’t interested in replaying the frustrating experience with my .223 at 900 again, but I did want to see if I could push the .300 Win Mag out beyond 1000 yards. Initially I was hitting way high. I realized that I had miscounted the revolutions on my scope turret and was a full 5 mils above where I had intended to be.

After I corrected that problem, I ended up going through about a dozen rounds and bracketing the target without getting any hits. At that point, I decided to call it quits. I could have let the barrel cool down and had another go and perhaps gotten a hit, but 1100 yards was pretty clearly beyond the angular accuracy of this rifle/shooter combination. Still, in this class, I’d been able to push it out to 1000, which was about 100 yards further than I’d managed before. Not bad for an off the rack Savage (albeit with tailored handholds and a good quality optic).

As we got to mid-afternoon, everyone had shot all that they wanted to shoot. Chris did a nice debrief about the class, asking everyone what they liked and what could be improved. This spurred some excellent discussion, including some teaching points on how to call corrections when spotting. Chris also talked a bit about the next level course that Match Grade Precision teaches: Precision Long Range 2.

They handed out the certificates, and everyone packed up and headed out. I grabbed some food in Salina and headed back to Wichita.

Conclusion

This was a great class. When it comes to long-distance shooting like this, I still consider myself towards the beginner end of the spectrum. I don’t have enough opportunities to shoot at longer distances, so a course like this is a great chance to exercise these skills.

As I mentioned, one of my big motivations for coming to this class was to test out some gear. The AR shot well, and I left this class confident that it’s more than accurate enough to use the full ballistic envelope of the .223 cartridge if I do my part. Once I got the wind call nailed down, it could place shots with almost boring consistency out to 800 yards. The performance at 900, on the other hand, indicated that 800 is pretty close for the hard limit for this cartridge (at least under these atmospheric conditions).

I’m pretty happy with the US Optics B-10 scope. The only real problem I had was the slipped windage turret that I discovered Sunday morning. I think this can probably be attributed to user error. Ever since I stripped out a turret set screw on a Leupold scope, I’ve been afraid to crank down on them too heavily. In this case, I think that came back to bite me. One of the reasons I like this optic is that setting the elevation turret doesn’t involve any tiny little set screws. I just wish they could do the same for the windage turret.

The one other issue I had with the windage turret is it wasn’t always easy to see exactly what I’d dialed. Part of this was the lighting conditions, shaded by the roof over the shooting line but strongly backlit by the brightly sunlit range. Part of it was the fact that unlike some other optics (including my Leupold) the reference marking is on the side of the scope body, rather than the “stem” of the turret. I’m not anticipating that this will be a big issue since I’d mostly hold for windage (Matt asked us to dial rather than hold in this class, though I ended up holding later in the course). The readings on the elevation turret were much easier to see.

As I mentioned, the reticle was a bit of an issue when we were shooting on paper. The crosshairs are 0.1 mils thick while the squares whose corners we were shooting at were about 0.2 mils, so I had to kind of judge when I was covering about a quarter of the width and height of the square. I don’t think I’d like the crosshairs to be any thinner (to maintain usability at 1.8x) but a small open space in the center would be nice.

While I was mostly interested in testing the B-10, a couple of my experiences with the Leupold Mark 4 on my .300 Win Mag actually ended up reinforcing the value of certain features on the B-10. Miscounting revolutions when I dialed in elevation for 1100 yards highlighted the importance of both the B-10’s zero stop and the fact that it does 10 mils per revolution of the elevation turret. If I’d had those features on the Win Mag’s optic, it would have saved me some trouble. I think features like this are going to be must-haves on my scope purchases going forward.

One of the hazards of coming to a class like this is you see all the cool gear that other folks in the class are using. It often ends up being hard on your wallet. The results some students were getting with the 6.5 Creedmoor (and the kissing cousin 6.5x47mm Lapua) have reinforced my plans to get a rifle In 6.5mm. In contrast with the hard range limits of the .223 and .308 as they went subsonic, the 6.5s could clearly reach out well beyond 1000 yards.

I was also intrigued by the fact that Matt and Chris did a lot of their spotting using tripod mounted 15x binoculars rather than spotting scopes. They were able to make calls out beyond 1000 yards using these (not to mention that they have the skills to do a better job of it than I was doing through a 40x spotting scope). The nice Leofoto tripods that they were using also caught my eye.

I have to say that the facilities at Spearpoint Ranch were just fantastic. From where we were shooting they’ve got steel set up out to a mile, and there are other shooting areas on the property that we never even got a look at. The bunkhouse provided nice on-site lodging.

As far as the class itself, I really enjoyed myself. In particular, I liked the fact that we actually used data books and logged every shot in this course. A data book has gone out of fashion as ballistic calculators have gotten better and more ubiquitous. Many of the longer range classes I’ve been to either don’t talk much about data books or mention them but don’t actually use them during the shooting portions of the course. This is the first class I where really feel like I’ve come away from with enough knowledge and experience using a data book to make an informed decision of whether or not to use one and to make good use of one if I decide to.

It should be noted that this is purely a marksmanship class. No stalking, observation, Kim’s games or other sniper type activities, just long range shooting. All of the shooting we did in this class was done at known distances from the bipod supported prone position (moving away from these is part of the curriculum in the LR2 course). I think this is a great class for working on the fundamentals of long-range marksmanship with as few other variables to contend with as possible.

This was a good class to test out my new optic. Even more so it would be a good class to get to know a new long range rifle. The ability to do some self-directed data gathering at whatever range your rifle will shoot to is hugely valuable, and having experienced instructors on hand to help you work through any issues with a new gun and/or optic is a significant benefit. Since I think I see a 6.5 Creedmoor in my future, I think I might want to come back and retake LR1.

I didn’t get the chance to take as many pictures as I sometimes do, but Erica took a ton of great photos and posted them on the Match Grade Precision Facebook page.

Matt and Chris did a great job teaching the class. They were very accommodating of different student’s skill levels, and I think everyone came out of this class more capable than when they came in. They’ve got a very laid back teaching style and did a great job responding to student questions.

If you’re looking to up your long-range shooting skills, I’d definitely recommend Match Grade Precision and their Long Range 1 class.

Benefits of team tactics training for the solo gunfighter

Chris Upchurch

There was recently some debate recently on the Paragon Pride forum about the usefulness of team tactics courses for the individual citizen. The benefits of team tactics training to folks who are lucky enough to have guys who they trust to have their back, live close enough or spend enough time together that they are reasonably like to be around when SHTF, and who are willing to train team tactics skills are pretty obvious. Unfortunately, many of us are not that lucky. However, having done a fair amount of team tactics training and I think that team tactics classes can teach valuable skills, even if you never intend to deploy them in the team environment.

As Colby Rupert is fond of saying, in a gunfight, you can’t move faster than you can process your environment. So how do we learn to learn to process faster? Just like any other skill, we need to practice.

Square range drills don’t really provide a very good venue to practice these sorts of processing skills. For safety reasons you generally know exactly where you’re going to stand and what you’re going to shoot before the drill starts. Most gun games are similar (aside from the occasional blind stage). You can incorporate some elements of this with shoot/no-shoot targets, but even though these require some processing, the scene that you’re processing is static. To really experience this, we need a dynamic situation, one that evolves as it plays out and requires the student to process what’s going on and react accordingly.

For the individual gunfighter, the most directly applicable way to train these skills is through scenario-based force on force training. Scenario-based FoF is distinct from drill based FoF, where both the student and the person playing the bad guy go in with a specific script that they act out. In scenario-based FoF, the student goes in without knowing how the scenario is going to unfold and things are a lot more open-ended.

Unfortunately, classes like this are few and far between. If you look at it from an instructor’s perspective, it’s not hard to see why: a class where only one student is active at a time requires smaller class sizes meaning it’s less profitable for the instructor. I’ve seen classes that incorporate a few FoF scenarios, but very few instructors do entire classes like this. One or two scenarios in a two-day class are nowhere near the level of repeated practice that it takes to really get better at these skills.

However, there’s another way for students to experience a dynamic environment that they have to process and respond to. Rather than making the targets and bystanders dynamic, use static targets and incorporate team members into the exercise. Team tactics classes require students to process the environment to maintain situational awareness, to respond appropriately to other team members’ actions, and to avoid shooting their teammates. Doing this at a level that pushes against the limits of your mental bandwidth and helps exercise and improve those processing skills.

I recently took a live fire team CQB class that really drove this home. I needed to think about where I need to move, what sector I need to be covering, move using the proper footwork, discriminate targets, account for holdover and properly place my shots, and remain aware of the three other guys in the room doing the exact same thing. All of this really pushed the limits of my mental bandwidth, even though we weren’t moving very fast. This class really exercised those processing skills and helped make me better at them (it’s also reinforced the need for me to practice certain fundamentals like shooting during controlled movement, target discrimination, and shot placement).

The good news is team tactics courses are a lot more common than scenario based FoF classes. Looking at the economics from the instructor’s point of view it’s not hard to see why. It’s a lot easier to run a reasonably sized class when you have two, four, or even eight guys engaged in a drill at once. Of course, there’s also a higher cool factor for team tactics stuff that makes it easier to get students to sign up.

The ability to better process your environment in a gunfight isn’t the only thing you can learn in a team tactics class that will benefit you in a solo gunfight, but I think it’s one of the most important. Even if you’ll never stack up outside a door to make entry, or do a bounding drill to move up on an enemy position, classes that teach these skills are an opportunity to practice processing a dynamic environment and making decisions. They’re a very valuable experience for the advanced student beyond the specific team-oriented skills that they teach.

CQB Fundamentals with Eric Dorenbush

Chris Upchurch

Recently I had the opportunity to take a CQB Fundamentals class from Eric Dorenbush of Green Eye Tactical. Eric is a former Delta operator, so CQB is definitely right in his wheelhouse. I previously took his Close Quarters Marksmanship class, which is a natural lead-in to CQB Fundamentals.

Gear

For my primary rifle, I brought the 14.5” AR that I’ve used in several recent classes. It’s got a Leupold Mark 6 1-6x optic on it and, I’m running an AAC Mini4 suppressor.

This is a rifle only class. This is for safety reasons since it’s easier to keep folks from muzzling teammates with a rifle than a pistol (pistol work is included in the follow-on Intermediate CQB class). However, I brought along my usual carry gun (an RMRed Glock 17) for any social encounters during the trip.

One of the gear requirements for the class is body armor with rifle plates. This is less for protection during the class and more because Eric believes that armor is something that students at this level really ought to have in their loadout. I brought a Velocity Systems Scarab Light plate carrier with Level III+ SAPI plates (as well as Level IV side plates). The Level III+ plates are rated against M193 & M855, but not .30 caliber AP ammo. They’re about 2/3 the weight of the standard Level IV plates, so I think that’s a good tradeoff.

Since I won’t be running a pistol, the rest of my support gear setup is pretty minimal. One belt-mounted kydex mag pouch backed up by two mags on a shingle attached to the plate carrier.

In his pre-class email, Eric mentioned that this class was a bit of a firehose and suggested bringing a GoPro or some other helmet/head/gun cam to record both lecture material and some of the drills. I brought a GoPro Hero6 with a head mount and a Tachyon OPS camera mounted to my rifle. The Tachyon OPS is nice and small, but it’s pretty old and low res (I’ve got my eye on a GoPro Session 5 if having a guncam proves useful in this class).

Everyone in the class was running an AR (though one student also had an MP5 clone). Two of them were AR pistols. Most students had red dots, but three had ACOGs on their M4s. Mine was the only low power variable optic.

Friday

I left Wichita around noon and got to Weatherford early that evening. Between leaving a bit earlier and Daylight Savings Time I was able to arrive before dark.

Saturday

I rolled out of bed early and arrived at the gate to the range complex around 7:30. Once the rest of the class (save one) arrived, we convoyed in a few miles to the range we would be using.

This was a full class, with twelve guys in it. The majority were armed citizens, but two were cops, and we had three USAF Security Forces NCOs who came down from Minot AFB for the class (they enjoyed the 80-degree temps quite a bit).

Eric had everyone sign the safety waivers. He out three-ring binders with a bunch of written material that supplements the class content. This starts with basic stuff like shooting fundamentals and malfunctions, but it also includes material on CQB procedures (which made more sense after this class) and maintaining night vision equipment. This is a living document that he’s continually updating (he added a section on verbiage for use during CQB entries since the version of this I got last December at the NVG course).

Eric spent a bit of time inspecting everyone’s kit, particularly the plate setups that everyone had brought.

He demoed his preferred procedure for clearing a rifle: lock the bolt to the rear and inspect the chamber, bolt face, and magazine well for the presence of any ammunition (or any debris or damage). He noted that you can do this by feel in low light if necessary, which is not true of all clearing procedures.

Next up was the safety briefing. Eric covered the usual four rules of gun safety, but he has his own take on them, particularly Rule #2 (muzzle discipline) and Rule #4 (background). Rule #2 is often phrased “Never let your muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.” Eric teaches doing your target discrimination (deciding whether or not a target needs to be shot) through the sights with the rifle pointing in at the target. This is important when operating in low light situations with your white light or IR illuminator mounted to the rifle. After taking this class, I also realized how important this is in a CQB environment. The ability to go from deciding that a target need shooting to aligning the sight with your desired aiming point without having to raise the weapon is huge. The upshot is that you will be pointing the rifle at potential targets before deciding whether or not they need to be shot. The key to doing this safety is absolutely rock solid trigger finger discipline.

When discussing Rule #4 (be sure of your target and what is beyond it), Eric emphasized the possibility of people moving between you and your target (a significant danger in CQB). He also segued from the discussion of overpenetration into a lecture on terminal effectiveness and producing immediate incapacitating injury. He’s a big advocate of central nervous system shots (for both the head and torso). This is a topic that we’d return to a bit later in the day.

Eric emphasized that everyone in the class was a safety officer. Anyone can yell “cease fire” if they see an unsafe condition. If someone calls “stop,” “freeze,” “cease-fire,” or you hear a sustained whistle blast or an air horn, you freeze immediately. The only move you make is to straighten your trigger finger. Don’t take another step, don’t look around, don’t put your safety on. Just freeze.

Eric conducted a medical brief, describing what would happen in the event of someone getting injured. About half the class raised their hands when Eric asked who had any trauma care training. We had an MD in the course, so unless he was the one who got shot, he would be the primary responder.

The first third of the class (through early Saturday afternoon) was basically an abbreviated version of the Close Quarters Marksmanship course. Out on the range, Eric started by talking about natural point of aim and close quarters shooting. He’s a big advocate for squaring up to the target and mounting the rifle near the center of the chest, under the dominant eye.

This is also where Eric introduced how he wanted us to use the manual safety on our rifles. The safety does not come off until you are pointed in at a target and have made the decision to engage. If this is a multiple target engagement, it remains off until you’ve done your target discrimination on all targets, cleared and recleared them (all of which is done through the sights). Before that rifle drops even a millimeter, the safety goes back on.

We started with a CQB holdover drill. Eric put an aiming point on each target and asked us to fire a group, keeping our sights on that aiming point. Then we used the distance between the aiming point and where our rounds landed as a reference. After a few iterations, everyone was doing a decent job of dealing with their mechanical offset.

The next drill was doing some controlled pairs from the ready. Eric explained the difference between a controlled pair and a double tap (a controlled pair has a separate sight picture for each shot, the double tap is one sight picture followed by two shots and hopefully the gun is still aligned with the target when you press that second shot. He also talked about the context of the controlled pair. If you only have one guy who needs shooting, pound a bunch of rounds into him. However, if you have multiple targets that need to be discriminated (and possibly shot), each only gets two rounds before you move on to the next target. The key is after you’ve addressed each target, you need to come back to the guy who only got two rounds and see if he needs to get shot some more.

After talking a bit about reloads (since this came up during the controlled pair drill for some folks), we moved on to linear movement. As in the CQM class, Eric went into great detail on the footwork, breaking it down and explaining how each individual element contributed to sight movement as you walked. He talked about how to use sight movement, and where your shots wind up on the target, to diagnose footwork problems.

Eric had us start about 30 yards out and move straight in towards the target. We did a couple of dry runs before going live. Even when we went live, he asked us to establish our footwork first, only raising the rifle when we had the foot movement down and not pressing any shots until we had the rifle steady on the target as we moved.

The time I put into dry practicing this stuff since the CQM class paid off. Not only did I keep all of my shots in the A-zone of the IPSC target, after the first couple of runs you probably could have covered most of them with an index card. On our last run, I ramped up the cadence of my shooting. My group expanded a bit, but I still keep all of them in the A-zone (practice works!).

Rounding out the shooting on the move module, we did some lateral movement. Eric wants students pointing their toes in the direction of movement, no sidestepping. However, he also still wants you squared up with the target for shooting. Accomplishing this requires getting as much rotation out of your torso and hips as possible. However, for most of us (unless you’re unusually flexible), this still won’t be enough. The solution is to bend your knees and get that last bit of rotation in your legs.

As in the CQM class, Eric set up the drill to have students start walking forwards, then make a 90 degree turn to the right with your lower body while keeping the upper body oriented towards the berm. We engaged each target along the line as we passed it. For right-handed shooters, this is the “easy” direction (we did have a couple of lefties in the class). After a couple of runs from left to right, we reversed directions and ran it the hard way, from right to left.

I hadn’t done a whole lot of dry practice specifically on lateral movement since the CQM class, but the time that I put in on my linear movement footwork did help somewhat.

That was the end of the movement block, so we took a break for lunch. While folks were eating Eric brought out some photorealistic targets and talked a bit about shot placement. He teaches using anatomical cues to place shots very precisely to achieve central nervous system hits (both in the head and the torso).

He segued into a discussion of target discrimination. I really like how Eric teaches this. Lots of instructors talk about what gets someone shot, but I haven’t run into one that explains the process anywhere near as well as Eric does. It starts with a quick assessment of the entire target; then you zero in on the hands. People generally have two, and you want to see both of them. If you see a weapon in one of those hands, trace the arm back to the body (this is important in hostage situations, or if two people are tangled up). Once you’re back at the body, select your aiming point, account for mechanical offset, and press the shot. Repeat as necessary.

By this point, everyone was done eating. We headed out to the range and replaced the IPSC targets with some photo targets to practice target discrimination and shot placement. We split into two relays, so each student had two targets to discriminate (meaning this was also a multiple target engagement drill). Eric does these drills with a set of laminated hands, containing threats (guns, knives, lead pipes, hand grenades, etc.) or non-threats (empty hands, phones, badges, etc.). While one relay faced uprange, the other pasted these hands on the targets to change whether they were threats or not. Once everyone was back behind the line, the shooting relay turned around on command and had to discriminate their targets. After shooting anyone who needs to be shot, the student has to reclear the targets. In real life this would involve looking at the results of your shooting (did they fall down, drop any weapons, etc.) and reassessing anyone who was initially not categorized as a threat to see if that has changed. With paper targets that don’t fall down or draw previously hidden weapons, the reclear involves reassessing the picture on the target, confirming whether you needed to shoot (or deciding to shoot a target you did not previously categorize as a threat) and looking to see if your bullet holes are in the right place. If a target needs (more) shooting, you fire again until you’re happy with the results.

We ran this live a couple of times for each relay, enough to give everyone a taste before we went into the shoot house.

Speaking of the shoot house, Eric’s setup uses waist high orange construction netting for the walls, with doors in doorframes at regular intervals. This gives Eric full visibility into the house while standing outside the room. For this class, he set up a simple 4-room house in the middle of a wide, deep bay with full side berms, allowing 270 degrees of shooting. With some care in target placement (and hard limits on where students could stand when observing) every round would end up in the berm.

CQB_Fundamentals_Shoot_House.jpeg

To help ensure this, students are only allowed to shoot targets that face them squarely. If a target is at more than a 45-degree angle from you, it’s not shootable. This allows Eric to control what angles a target will be shot from and where that bullet will end up.

Eric’s other big rule when it comes to shooting targets is that you only shoot targets that are completely upright. If a target is partially knocked over, then it’s not shootable. To prevent anyone from shooting through a target into another student, you never move past a target without knocking it over. If you move within arms reach of a target, knock it down. The target stands are 4” PVC pipe with a slot cut in the top of them so a target can be knocked over to the side easily. While in this context this is a range safety issue, it is analogous to the real world. In action, he trained to herd any noncombatants into the center of the room, so training to give a target near the wall a good shove toward the middle of the room fits in nicely.

To stop the action in the event of a potential safety violation, Eric had a pair of air horns (a pair because one is none and two is one). The air horns are faster than blowing a whistle or yelling freeze. Whenever a drill was running in the shoot house he had his thumbs on the air horn buttons ready to sound the horns in the event any student was about to do something unsafe (by far the most common reason for sounding the horns was failing to knock down a target as you passed).

With all the safety aspects explained and reinforced, Eric dove in to Room Clearing 101. He really opened up the fire hose here. I was taking notes like mad.

After Eric explained the basics, we did some dry work. For this class, everything was built around the context of a 4-man entry team. Each of these guys has a separate role to ensure that all sectors are covered, and all targets get engaged as soon as possible when the team goes through the door. However, to keep things simple as we started off, we only had two guys going in the room at a time. First, we had two students entering playing the roles of the #1 man and #2 man, imagining they were being followed by #3 and #4. Once everyone had a chance to run that dry we ran it again with two guys playing the roles of the #3 and #4 guys, imagining that they were preceded by #1 and #2.

After the dry runs, we went live. Again, we started with two students going in as the #1 and #2, imagining that they were followed by #3 and #4 guys.

The big issue that popped up right away and continued throughout the weekend was people going too fast. This stuff is very exciting, and it’s easy to get amped up. Over and over again Eric kept telling us to keep it slow.

The other issue that brought most of the safety horns during the #1 and #2 man entries was failing to knock over a target as you go past it. This is vital for safety, especially once we add actual #3 and #4 men who will want to shoot that target if it doesn’t get knocked down as the #1 or #2 go by it.

While live #1 and #2 with notional #3 and #4 is the first baby step as far as room clearing goes, it still requires students to perform their fundamental marksmanship and safety tasks at a very high level. From across the room, the #2 man is shooting targets within about 6 feet of the #1 man’s point of domination. This is the sort of thing that would give guys who only do square range shooting an aneurysm. However, with the way Eric had set things up, the safety protocols he enforced, and the level of safety and marksmanship that I’d seen my fellow students demonstrate to get to this point, I didn’t feel unsafe or uncomfortable with what we were doing.

We moved on to live #3 and #4 guys, imagining notional guys in the #1 and #2 positions. The #3 and #4 spots are actually more difficult when it comes to marksmanship. The #1 and #2 guy’s primary sectors are in their direction of movement. The #3 and #4 have to move in one direction while shooting in the other. This is where the lateral movement drills from earlier really came into play.

After shooting #3 and #4 live, we wrapped up for the day. During the debrief, Eric broke down some of the “why” behind certain tactics that we learned during the day and talked a bit about how different US military units do CQB.

About half of us decided to meet at a local restaurant that Eric recommends call the Mesquite Pit. It was a busy Saturday night, so there was a bit of a wait for a table, but the food was fantastic. It’s always great to have some fellowship with like-minded folks at classes like this.

Sunday

On Sunday morning we mustered at the range at 8:30. Eric opened things up with some time for students to work on individual skills that they had difficulty with the previous day. Virtually everyone in the class chose to work on lateral movement.

After the individual work, we reconvened outside the shoot house. Eric talked about procedures for stacking up outside the door. One thing he emphasized heavily was for the lead man in the stack to keep his gun up an pointed in at the door. When he was in Iraq, he was covering a door in a similar situation when an occupant of the house came out with an AK to see what was going on. Because Eric had his gun up and the other guy didn’t, it wasn’t much of a fight.

One thing of note is that this was the only real “war story” directly involving him that Eric told the entire weekend. I think this is an important (and revealing) point. While Eric has a very impressive background, he’s careful not to make this class about him. It’s about imparting the knowledge that background provides to the students in the class. I really appreciate that.

He also demonstrated how to open a door. Eric is very slick and smooth at this. When he does it, there’s hardly any pause as he opens the door. He flows through and into the room without losing momentum. It’s obviously the product of a lot of practice.

Eric talked about the importance of the Last Covered and Concealed Position (LCC). The LCC is a position out of sight of the objective where the team can conduct their last-minute pre-combat checks, prep breaching gear, and generally make sure they’ve got everything ready to go. In this class, we would also load our rifles at the LCC (obviously in the real world you would want loaded weapons for the movement to the LCC, doing this at the LCC is an additional safety measure for the training environment).

Up until this point, the team making the entry had been the ones to decide when they go. Here Eric introduced the concept of a higher level command that would initiate the assault. This is important to coordinate multiple teams or support elements like snipers so that everybody goes in a coordinated manner. For this class, Eric would take the role of the assault commander.

The team moves from the LCC to stack up next to the door when instructed. Once they’re ready, the team leader indicates that they’re in position. On command, they initiate the assault and go through the door.

The other new element that Eric introduced was post-assault procedures. The job isn’t done after you’ve shot everybody in the room. One thing I thought was interesting was how Eric initiated this. Rather than having everyone yelling “clear” like the way you see on TV or in a lot of youtube videos, he ties it to your team members actions. When you’re reclearing the room (following up and making sure you correctly discriminated all targets and your shots on hostile targets had the desired effect) you do it pointed in, with the eyes and rifle moving together. When you’re done with the reclear, the weapon goes on safe, you lower it slightly, and you put your head on a swivel. When you see three other guys with their weapons lowered and heads on a swivel, the room is clear.

When the room is clear, part of the team will cover the next door leading deeper into the structure while the rest of the team makes sure the targets you just shot are dead and deals with any noncombatants that you didn’t shoot. Once they’re done, the team proceeds to the next room.

After this huge fire hose of content, we ran four-man entries dry to demonstrate that every student knew what they were supposed to be doing.

While we all got kitted up, Eric passed out radios to everyone communicate between the teams and with him as assault commander. The radios were a nice addition (though for 90% of what we were doing, shouting would have worked).

We headed out to the shoot house and did four-man entries live. We went through the process of checking the targets and stacking up on the next door, but for now, Eric halted the drill before entering the next room.

There was time for each team to rotate through and run this drill twice before lunch.

After a welcome break, we headed back out to the shoot house. This time we ran a 4-man entry, but rather than stopping after clearing and searching the first room, we continued on to clear the second room. Eric also started putting laminated hands up on the targets, forcing us to go through our target discrimination process before shooting.

Colby Rupert (who I’ve trained with in the past) often mentions that you can only fight as fast as you can process your environment. When Eric added target discrimination to our mental load, I really appreciated that in a visceral, hands-on way for the first time. I needed to dedicate my mental bandwidth think about where I need to move, what sector I need to be covering, move using the proper footwork, discriminate targets, account for holdover and properly place my shots, and remain aware of the three other guys in the room doing the exact same thing. While I was able to do all of this at the same time, I definitely couldn’t do it very quickly.

When students exceeded their mental bandwidth, it started to show up in areas like target discrimination and shot placement. One of Eric’s ongoing themes throughout the class was to keep it slow and only go as fast as you can actually do all of this stuff.

The key to eventually being able to do this at a faster pace is going to be to practice all this stuff to the point where the mechanical aspects of these tasks (footwork, holdover) become automatic and the tactics (where to move, what sector to cover, shot placement) become second nature. This leaves as much mental bandwidth as possible to process the environment, discriminate targets, and maintain situational awareness.

After all the teams had a chance to go through the 2-room drill, Eric had us drop our kit and meet in the shoot house to talk about corner fed rooms. All of the entries we’d done thus far had been center fed rooms: the door is in the middle of a wall. Corner fed rooms, where the door is adjacent to a corner of the room, need to be cleared a bit differently.

Rather than starting off with a lecture, Eric had four guys stack up outside a corner fed room (the third room in the shoot house) and told them to make entry. Without any prompting, they managed to figure out what to do pretty much on the first try. I think this goes to show how successfully Eric was in teaching not just the specific tactics, but also the principles behind them.

After talking through corner fed rooms, Eric talked some about what to do if you’re clearing a room and there’s an open door deeper into the structure. You want to address the next room before doing a post-assault search of the current one, but the same time you don’t want to get too deep into the house before going back and ensuring that you’ve taken care of the occupants of the previous room.

Eric rounded out this lecture by talking about what to do when you come to a door that leads outside and, now that you’ve cleared the whole building, how to clear your way back to your entry point.

This was another fire-hose of content, but I found it a lot less overwhelming than the initial room clearing lecture on Saturday. A big part of this was that I already understood the context of a lot of what he was talking about, so this was more about fitting new information in a context that I understood rather than trying to contextualize everything from scratch.

We kitted back up, and each team went through the entire 4-room shoot house (two center fed rooms followed by two corner fed rooms). Eric had open doors between the first and second rooms and the second and third rooms, so we got to exercise those tactics as well.

Given the issues with going too fast on the previous drill, our team agreed that we would go “stupid slow” on this one. We managed to do this pretty well in the first room, but the open doors tended to pull us faster and faster as we worked our way through the structure.

One of the things that a 4-room clear like this really put front and center in a way that the shorter exercises didn’t was the need for sustained concentration. Start to finish this exercise took about 12 minutes for our team, and it really required you to stay on the ball in a way the shorter ones did not.

After all the teams went through the full 4-room clear, Eric had us drop kit and assemble at the shoot house for a lecture on free flow CQB.

Up until this point, all of our training focused on a single four-man team (even when we were doing the exercises with only two guys on Saturday, it was still in the context of a four-man team). If you have more than a four-man team available, how do you apply that extra manpower to the problem? One way to do this is free flow CQB.

Essentially, this can be thought of as simply throwing more people at the problem. If you have more guys, you can get a lot more done. In most reasonably sized rooms, stuffing more assaulters in really isn’t going to help (in fact it might be harmful). So free flow CQB is still built around four guys making entry to each room. What makes this “free flow” is that these can be any four guys, even if they’re not members of the same team.

Rather than just having Team 1 clear the first room and Team 2 clear the second room, free flow CQB is all about “finding work.” Team 1 might clear the first room. While they’re searching that room, Team 2 will come in, and two guys from Team 1 might stack up on the next door with the first two guys from team two. They can go ahead and make entry while the other half of Team 1 conducts the search and the other half of Team 2 hangs back until work presents itself. Or Team 1 may see an open door and immediately stack up on that for entry, trusting Team 2 to take care of the after action in the room they just cleared. The upshot is that this moves a lot faster and more fluidly with less waiting around than a single-team entry.

We did a dry run through the shoot house using free flow CQB to demonstrate. Eric also talked a bit about having multiple teams enter the target building at different points and how to coordinate this. We walked through multiple entry dry, but would not be doing it live fire (it would require a very different arrangement of rooms and targets in order to be done safely in a shoot house without ballistically rated walls).

However, we could run the free flow CQB life fire, so Eric had us all gear up and assemble some distance away. For this run our last covered and concealed position would actually be concealed from the shoot house. We moved up, everyone got loaded, and the team leaders radioed Eric that we were in position. While we were at the LCC, slipped a specific non-threat target in among the others and radioed us a description, designating that target as a hostage we had to retrieve.

On command, we moved up to the breach point. Initially, everybody stacked up on one side of the door in one long conga line. Eric had Teams 2 and 3 pull back and line up perpendicular to the shoot house before Team 1 made entry. Despite being our first time running through this live, it was pretty slick. The additional guys made clearing the house much faster paced. Because all of the building blocks and individual skills and tasks were the same, people were able to slot in easily and process through multiple rooms. There was a bit of confusion about what to do with the “hostage” target, but we got that straightened out and brought it back out with us.

There was a bit of time left in the class, so Eric did a quick debrief and had us assemble and move up to the LCC again. We move up and one team stacked at the breach again, while the other two held short. This time the free flow drill went even smoother. If anything I think three teams (12 guys) on one breach point was probably a bit too many. Even with the free flow, there was some standing around waiting for work to open up.

However, after we’d finished the initial clear and everyone had cleared and flagged their rifles, Eric threw in a twist that took care of that. He designated one of the students as a casualty (leg wound) and had us provide initial treatment and get him out of the shoot house. At this point, we turned into keystone cops for a bit. We eventually cleared up who was going to do what, got a TQ on the “injured” leg and carried him out, while providing good security and backclearing the structure on the way out.

After that we had a good debrief (including some conversation about keeping medical gear easily accessible and in a recognizable spot so that you can treat a casualty with his blow-out kit, rather than your own). Eric mentioned that we were the first class that got through the material fast enough that we had time for a second free-flow CQB drill.

We headed back to the benches, and all dropped our kit. Eric debriefed the entire class and talked a bit about follow-on courses. He has a three-day Intermediate CQB that gets taught once or twice e year. He also has a curriculum for an Advanced CQB class (which he has never taught) that would be held at a facility down in Florida and would be a five-day affair.

Everyone got packed up and headed out. I had a meeting back in Wichita at 10 am on Monday, so my first leg was all the way up to Oklahoma City. I ended up getting to my hotel around midnight. That left a two-hour drive Monday morning to get back to work on time.

Conclusion

This was truly an excellent class. It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a course that I got so much information out of.

In a way, though, this was a very simple class. All we did was clear rooms (no corners, hallways, T-intersections, or any other features). However, we covered that room clearing material in great depth, ultimately building up to multiple rooms and free flow CQB.

One of the dangers, when you have an instructor with Eric’s background, is that things can devolve into “I’m a cool dude, and you’re a cool dude for having trained with me.” Doubly so with topics like CQB. This class did not go down that road at all. Eric is very focused on building the students’ knowledge and capabilities.

As with the CQM class, Eric’s coaching skills were really on display in this class. Coaching is a very different skill set than teaching, and not all instructors have both. Eric can look at your footwork or your results on target, diagnose what you’re doing wrong, and make suggestions that result in improvements on your next run. Going further, he also does a good job explaining what he’s seeing and how that connects with your results, enabling the student to go home and diagnose these issues when practicing these skills.

In live fire CQB class, safety is obviously paramount. Eric clearly had it in mind when he put the course together, in everything from the design of the shoot house, to target placement, to the structure of the class. His step by step, building block approach to the material ensured that everyone demonstrated fundamental safety skills before we move into the shoot house. While the lectures delivered a lot of material, he broke the lectures and the drills that followed so that each one was a reasonable amount of new material for students to master at one time. It’s quite an accomplishment that in a class that involves other guys shooting at targets within 6 feet of my position I never felt any concerns about safety.

Everyone in the class had good muzzle and trigger finger discipline. I did not see anyone with their fingers on the trigger when they shouldn’t or waving their muzzle around carelessly. Of all of the safety rules, the two that seemed to require constant reinforcement from Eric were knocking down targets as you go past them and when to re-engage the safety after shooting.

Knocking down the targets was something that I think was new to everyone in the class, and we hadn’t really internalized it yet. Re-engaging the safety was something we were all used to, but Eric is very strict on making sure you don’t lower the rifle, not even a little bit, before engaging the safety. He called people for it in class whenever he saw anyone doing it. I caught myself doing it a couple of times, and it’s something I need to work on.

In addition to the skills and knowledge that Eric brought to the table, part of what made this class so good was my fellow students. All were safe, with excellent gunhandling skills. Everyone asked good questions and did well in the drills. It was definitely nice having a multiple of four, so we had three full teams.

It was a very solid group of guys, and I was glad to have the opportunity to train with them.

Gear

The Leupold Mark 6 1-6x worked really well. Even though I was the only one in the class with a low power variable rather than a red dot I never felt overly handicapped by having the magnified optic. I think I’m convinced that I need to get a higher mount for it, however. While I could get my eye behind the optic when moving laterally to the support side, trying to do that, while concentrating on my footwork, and discriminating targets, and placing my shots appropriately was asking a lot. A higher mount and more erect head position would have made things a little easier. This is something I’ve heard before (from Eric and Colby Rupert) but experiencing it in a live fire environment is something else again.

This was my first time wearing a plate carrier for an extended period. While Eric encouraged us to drop kit whenever we had a long break between exercises, there were still occasions where I was wearing it for an extended period. It was more comfortable than I expected. The Scarab Light carried the weight well. I was very glad to have the lighter Level III+ front and back plates rather than Level IV. I may tweak the setup for future classes (try running a full chest rig, or a slick plate carrier and a war belt) but I think the carrier and plates will work well.

I was very glad a brought the GoPro, and the rail mounted video camera. I got some good footage of the shoot house exercises. It didn’t do quite as well capturing some of the lectures I tried to record. I may need to do something to get better audio if I want to use it in that role. I also sometimes had trouble figuring out whether it was recording or not when I had it head-mounted (I captured one lecture in time-lapse photos rather than on video, for instance). GoPro makes a remote with a little LCD that shows the recording mode and status I could hang on my gear. That might be the ticket for future classes.

I'll be back

Speaking of future classes, this class definitely did an excellent job of selling me on Eric’s Intermediate and Advanced CQB courses. However, it also makes me want to go back and retake the Close Quarters Marksmanship class. Now that I’ve experienced how demanding the CQB environment is when it comes to footwork and target discrimination, and how much mental bandwidth it demands, I want to take CQM again and raise those skills to the next level.

Finally, I’d really like to go through this class again as well. There was so much stuff here that I think I would get a lot out of it if I were to go through it all a second time. I think it would be easier to appreciate some of the stuff Eric covers in his lectures if I came in already knowing the context of the material. There’s a lot of depth here, even without getting into the intermediate and advanced classes.

I am so glad that I took this class. It was one of the most eye-opening training experiences I’ve had in a while, and I learned a tremendous amount. Eric Dorenbush is an excellent instructor, and I’ve gotten a ton out of every class that I’ve taken from him.